Advantages & Disadvantages of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is one of the many therapies available as of 2011 to battle cancer. Radiation therapy uses high-energy doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy, to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can successfully treat breast, prostate, thyroid and many other types of cancer. As with any treatment, however, radiation therapy also has some disadvantages that should be considered.

Limited Damage

Unlike chemotherapy, a systemic treatment that spreads throughout the body, radiation therapy is delivered precisely to one particular location, so damage to the healthy cells in the body can be significantly less, according to CancerQuest. Radiation therapy, however, is not without side effects.

Effectiveness Against Localized Tumors

Radiation therapy may not be effective when used alone against all types of cancers --- particularly cancers that have metastasized throughout the body. Radiation therapy delivers cancer-killing doses of radiation at the tumor site, the National Cancer Institute explains, but doesn't travel throughout the body to destroy cancer cells that have spread as chemotherapy treatment can do.

Limited Effectiveness Against Metastasized Cancers

Radiation therapy may not be effective when used alone against all types of cancers — particularly cancers that have metastasized throughout the body. Radiation therapy delivers cancer-killing doses of radiation at the tumor site, the National Cancer Institute explains, but doesn't travel throughout the body to destroy cancer cells that have spread as chemotherapy treatment can do.

Long-Term Problems

Although radiation therapy can cause less damage to the body and less-severe side effects, it nevertheless presents risk of both long- and short-term side effects. External beam radiation can cause a skin rash and skin sensitivity, the National Cancer Institute warns. Radiation therapy can also cause problems with tissues, glands or organs near the site of the treatment. Long-term side effects can include the growth of scar tissue, infertility and damage to other areas the body, depending on the location of the radiation treatment. Some people may also develop a secondary cancer as a result of exposure to radiation.

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